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Sam Davidson's blog

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Does It All Come Down to Money?

A new study by Johns Hopkins cites the following as the biggest challenges to the nonprofit world:

  • Charitable fundraising (68% of organizations)
  • Health benefit costs (58%)
  • Government budget cuts (47%)
  • Generating fee income (46%)
  • Board recruitment (46%)
  • Public understanding (41%)

It doesn't surprise me that fundraising is first on the list. Whenever I meet with a nonprofit leader to talk about CoolPeopleCare and ask them what their biggest need is, it usually boils down to two:

  • Money
  • People

Money is needed in the form of donations or grants in order to continue operating and serving a core constituency. People are needed as volunteer, attendees, donors, and ears.

Coming in third is awareness, which is number 5 above.

But can it all be this simple? Does the future of the nonprofit sector rest solely on the amount of cash an organization can generate?

If so, then expect your executive directors to have to know less about managing change or overseeing staff. The only interview question they'll be asked is, "How much money can you raise?" And after the parade of candidates is complete, whoever said the highest number gets the job. Then, they'll have 18 months to keep their promise. It's like some sick version of "Name That Tune."

Of course, it really doesn't matter who can raise the most money, but who can raise money the best. While nearly any nonprofit will gladly take a check (depending upon the strings attached), some nonprofits need better strategic partners. For some, an alliance with a key media outlet is equally as good as raising money to print new brochures. For others, a core of dedicated volunteers is as good as a staff position.

What is needed more than money is creative strategy.

Creative strategy can raise money and awareness, but it can also get people on board. Creative strategy can tell the right story to the right person to get the right response. Creative strategy breaks rules and makes new ones. Creative strategy thinks and dreams big. Creative strategy grows an organization at just the right speed. Creative strategy addresses the concerns of money and people in a way that meets those needs like never before.

Because you've got to be creative if you're going to get someone to open his or her wallet or purse.

Sadly, there's very little training for this type of leader. Thinking outside the box is rarely a chapter in a college textbook. For most people I know that fit this description, they've got something deep within them that makes them unique and inspiring and interesting to be around.

But, you need more than a great top dog to weather the winds of change in the charity world. So here are (what I feel) are the biggest needs to meet the challenges discovered in the JH study:

  • Creative leadership
  • Innovative fundraising
  • Storytelling
  • Strategic Partnerships

I'll unpack each of these in upcoming posts.